Tough enforcement of trade agreements will help the United States meet President Barack Obama's goal of doubling exports during the next five years, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Thursday.
Increasing the export of American products and services to global markets can help revive the fortunes of U.S. companies, spur future economic growth and support jobs here at home, Locke said in an excerpt of a speech he was to give detailing Obama's National Export Initiative (NEI).
Locke outlined a three-prong strategy to double exports by 2014: robust government advocacy for U.S. exporters in markets around the world, increased export financing and tough enforcement of trade agreements the United States has already signed to open foreign markets.
Obama set the goal in his State of the Union speech last week of doubling U.S. exports to support 2 million American jobs, picking up on an idea touted for months by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading business group.
This initiative will correct an economic blind spot that has allowed other countries to slowly chip away at the United States' international competitiveness, Locke said.
Although trade was badly hit by the global financial crisis in late 2008, U.S. exports of goods and services still finished the year at a record of about $1.83 trillion.
Exports continue to fall in the first half of 2009 but have on been on the rise since. Final Commerce Department figures due out next week are expected to show total 2009 exports in the range of about $1.54 trillion.
In the face of huge budget and trade deficits, the Obama administration hopes to shift the U.S. economy away from its heavy reliance on consumer demand and more toward investment and exports to propel growth.
While the U.S. is a major exporter, we are underperforming, Locke said in the excerpts given to reporters. U.S. exports as a percentage of GDP are still well below nearly all of our major economic competitors.
Obama also is creating an Export Promotion Cabinet that includes top officials from the Departments of Commerce, State and Agriculture as well as the U.S. Trade Representative's office, the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, Locke said.
Each of those agencies will be charged with developing a detailed plan over the next six months for boosting exports.
Prior to the NEI, export promotion may have been a 'some of the time' focus for many U.S. cabinet agencies and departments. The NEI makes it an 'all the time focus,' Locke, the former Washington state governor, said.
Democrats often accused former President George W. Bush of failing to enforce trade agreements the United States had signed, a charge his administration vigorously rejected.
During Obama's first year in office, the U.S. Trade Representative's office has filed few trade cases at the World Trade Organization but Locke said rigorous enforcement of U.S. trading rights would be a cornerstone of Obama's export plan.
Free trade only works in a system of rules where all parties live up to their obligations, Locke said.
The United States is committed to a rules-based trading system where the American people -- and the Congress -- can feel confident that when we sign an agreement that gives foreign countries the privilege of free and fair access to our domestic market, we are treated the same.
Obama also has directed the Exim Bank to boost export credit financing for small and medium-sized business from $4 billion to $6 billion over the next year, and his budget calls for $80 million in additional funding for the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration.
The new resources will allow ITA to hire as many as 328 trade experts to serve as advocates for U.S. companies and to assist more than 23,000 clients to begin or grow their export sales in 2011, Locke said.
The agency will focus particularly on increasing the number of small and medium-sized businesses exporting to more than one market by 50 percent over the next five years, he said.
(Editing by Bill Trott)